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Thursday, 25 May 1939

Mr MAHONEY (Denison) .- Having listened with much interest to the debate on this measure, I note that some honorable members believe that they have a solution for the evil of profiteering. This problem dates back nearly 2,000 years to the time when the Holy Nazarene overthrew the tables of the money changers and drove the profiteers out of the temple at Jerusalem.

From that time until to-day, efforts have been made to check the amassing of great wealth from undue profits, but I have yet to learn of any government that has succeeded in defeating the profiteers. I sympathize with the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) in his endeavour to cope with these avaricious individuals. As I said in my second-reading speech, I am afraid, that there is no possible chance of curtailing the profits made by those people, who to-day wax fat on the money which they derive from the sale of war supplies. I am disappointed with members of the "corner party", who claim to be sympathetic with the working people of Australia. I consider that profiteering in foodstuffs is the worst crime it is possible to commit. I hope, therefore, that we shall be able to deal with those unscrupulous indi;viduals who, in a time of national crisis, corner foodstuffs. The first duty of the Minister should be to take complete control of all .measures necessary for our defence. I have heard the right honorable gentleman refer to Great Britain and European countries. Data collated by English and German authorities show that the most drastic steps have had to be taken in Great Britain and Germany to deal with profiteers. So sympathetic, loyal and patriotic were

Certain of the farmers of England that when restrictions were imposed on profiteering in milk supplies, they dried off the cows, fattened them, and sold them as fat beef. The farmers of England stooped to the meanest action they could possibly take, in order to exploit women and children. I have heard it said that Germans are the most patriotic people in the world. I take leave to doubt that. In 1914, Germany had to pass drastic legislation to nationalize industries, fix prices, and supervise the .distribution of foodstuffs.

Mr Gander - Coffee was destroyed in Brazil in order to cause a shortage of that commodity.

Mr MAHONEY - As the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) has pointed out, coffee was destroyed in Brazil in order to prevent the people from purchasing it at a reasonable price. Wheat was dumped in America for the same purpose. How does this Government intend to deal with its own masters and supporters ? It has been sent here by the profiteers to make it easy for them to exploit the masses. If there is one person whom I would punish severely, it is the profiteer who exploits the nation when it is at war. I support the practical amendment of the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), who has demonstrated how profiteers could be dealt with in a time of crisis. If a Labour government has the opportunity to exercise this power, it will deal with the profiteer commensurate with his deserts. The Minister has explained what the Government proposes to do in connexion with the factories in which munitions are produced. There is to be a panel of experts for costing purposes, but before these gentlemen will be able to come to a decision they will need accurate information on which to base their calculations. The technical experts in industry will be under the control, not of the Government, but of the big industrialists throughout Australia, and these are the only people who know the real cost of the production of munitions. How can they be expected to supply secret information concerning their businesses? I agree with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) that this is all hocus-pocus. I am well satisfied that it is merely propaganda, designed to induce the supporters of the Government to believe that it is pulling the wool over the eyes of the Opposition and the electors. Some people object to the imposition of a fine, and others to imprisonment. Were I a magistrate when the first profiteer was arraigned in a time of crisis, I should have no hesitation in sending him to gaol. The committee is unanimous in professing preparedness to deal with profiteers. That being, the case, the only logical course is to support the amendment of the Acting Leader of the Opposition. The Government must be given a mandate in this matter. Then, if it did not deal with profiteering the responsibility for failure to do so would rest on its shoulders. I have no doubt that the Minister sincerely desires to protect from exploitation the women and children of this country. In all countries it is they who are the most ruthlessly exploited in a time of crisis. I do not agree with the attitude adopted by the Country party, whose members are afraid that a Labour government might use this legislation to prevent the primary producers from cornering foodstuffs in a national crisis. At such a time the foodstuffs they produce should be placed in a pool for the benefit of the whole of the nation. I am satisfied that this clause is an attempt to deal with profiteers. The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) is smiling. He is afraid to deal with the big profiteers in South Australia, who this year made a profit of 60 per cent., and who are exploiting the Commonwealth Government in the supply of materials for the defence o: this country. Certain profiteers who had contracts from the Defence Department became ashamed, and handed back to the Government a portion of their excess profits. That is absolute proof of the degree to which profiteering can be practised. If any member of the panel of accountants were put into industry he would be unable to work out the cost of production. Big companies which have technical experts will supply to the Government only such information as they want it to have.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member's time has expired.

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